How to Excel in the Holiday Season Ecommerce Frenzy

Nov 16, 2012 9:32 PM  By

As if the holiday shopping period wasn’t a big enough challenge for retailers, the emergence of omnichannel shoppers and their ability to comparison shop at the speed of light imposes an incredible need for equally fast response from retailers.

Questions are flying at retailers at the same speed as the internet downloads alternate options for consumers: Are hot products flying off the shelves? Great, but what if you run out? Is a traditional slow-seller also flying off the shelves? Does that mean it had the wrong price online? Are all the product images rendering correctly on the website? How are customers reacting to your service, what will make them tick or click? Has an early snowstorm tied up your distribution? How quickly can you react?

The need for speed
The best laid plans at times fall short without timely feedback loops using real-time data paired with rapid decision-making. Even top Internet Retailers struggle to map adequate bandwidth, resources and skillsets at critical holiday season. Many ecommerce companies have found an answer, they partner with knowledge processing outsourcing companies (KPOs).

KPOs specialize in critical, yet time consuming heavy lifting around real-time data organization, reporting and analytics that impact crucial decisions at holiday season crunch time. By creating this agile, decision-making framework, retailers can achieve impressive results – the holiday scramble will always exist, but the added bandwidth and confidence in data and operations will drive significant competitive advantage. Hurricane Sandy has proven that plans are necessary for unplanned events, are retailers ready?

Creating holiday rapid response capabilities is not rocket science, but does require a few key components not often found in the retailer playbook. For those unfamiliar with command centers or other monitoring and rapid response capabilities, think of it as a 3-step process: design, test, deliver.
Good products start with good design and your holiday response is no exception. You must identify your critical decision-makers, the information they need to execute quickly, and the source of that data. With these in place, you have the foundation for an effective holiday response model.

One key to success is automating what you can. Your key staff should spend their scarce time focused on making important and quick decisions, not sifting through & integrating disparate data, wondering about and validating its correctness, to piece together the bigger picture before reacting.

An experienced KPO partner can focus on the design and automation of the data capture and integration process, enabling a single view dashboard with the appropriate and relevant information to make revenue-driving decisions. Tuning your dashboard to the right information is a key consideration: too much data and the decision-makers are overwhelmed; too little and they’re forced to make seat-of-the-pants decisions without deeper, data-driven insights.

Testing is another critical step that’s most often overlooked. Just as you’d never push new features to your website without testing, new business capabilities must be tested before rollout. Gather your stakeholders and run through the processes, both the likely and the unlikely scenarios, and test your holiday response end to end: people, processes and technology. Conduct dry runs with real data, lay out the responses for “what if” scenarios, and make clear everyone’s roles and responsibilities. This will give you and your team the confidence that whatever’s thrown your way, you’ll have a good chance of responding quickly and well.

Time to deliver
In creating your command center, whether a real space or virtual, keep all decision-makers, execution resources and information providers in constant contact. This is the only way to ensure timely and effective decisions can be made and executed. Another important success factor is redundancy. You may wish to create command centers in two locations, for example, to guard against unexpected events. When it comes to the holiday shopping period, the stakes are just that high.

The last consideration is ensuring you have the right KPO partner to help you design, test and deliver. In addition to proven expertise in ecommerce rapid-response models, potential partners should have a demonstrated ability to work with large amounts of data – extracting it, consolidating it into meaningful information and presentation as decision-support dashboards.

Scott LiPera is the Global Practice Leader for Commerce & Content in the Sales and Marketing Services division at eClerx.